We had the good fortune of connecting with Bill Dambrova and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Bill, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
I got a degree from ASU in Studio Art back in ’93 with no plan for what to do after. I had no real sense of how to be an artist making and selling paintings for a living in Phoenix and I was not in any way interested in the business of art. The galleries in Scottsdale were geared mostly towards Southwest art and the few contemporary galleries we had weren’t a fit for the work I was making. The obvious thing to do was to try and get a job in a gallery or museum to see how things really worked. I got a job as a guard at the Phoenix Art Museum and in 2 months I learned about other types of work I could do in museums and I moved from guard to prepararor (art installer/ furniture builder). Being at a museum allowed me to meet professional and even famous artists giving me a glimpse into the bigger “Art World”. Two years later I was hired at the Heard Museum as a preparator and within a year and a half I moved into the design department as an exhibit designer. All this time I was painting when I had the chance but museums were becoming a career and I had less time to give to art. I moved to Los Angeles in 2003 and worked full time at several major museums like the Getty and the Natural History Museum, and the Long Beach Aquarium. Sometime around 2008, I was working full time for a design firm on the East Coast remotely from Hollywood. The recession happened and I got laid off. that was the best thing that ever happened to me. One of the projects I was working on wouldn’t move forward unless I could continue to be part of the team, so the company I was working for hired me as a freelancer for quite a bit more than what I was making on salary. This was eye opening and liberating… Now I could work part time as a freelance designer making the same money and have time to make art. From there design work became project based and I could work for a museum for a few months then take time off to make art and travel for a few months then start the cycle again. I have since lived in Venice Beach, Leupp, AZ (near Flagstaff, and now I’ve been in Phoenix for 8 years perfecting this balance of doing project based freelance design and having large chunks of time to binge in my studio making art. Some years I make more art and some years I do more design and I really enjoy bouncing back from one to the other, My design work and proximity to a greater art world though museums informs my painting and what I learn about color taking risks etc while making paintings informs my unique approach to exhibition design.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your art, what can you share with our community?
I used to make purely abstract paintings. Somewhere along the way I felt that the essence of the marks I was making, the colors I was selecting and the tension within the work was inspired by nature. Not really by the outside appearance of nature but the inner-workings of nature. How life expresses itself in different forms. The deeper I looked at nature and and specifically anatomical and microscopic worlds the more I turned my mark making in that direction. During that time (the late 90’s) I discovered artists like Terry Winters and Philip Taaffe that created work using biological forms in a way that didn’t just illustrate those forms; they were able to convey a deeper meaning that draws you into the mysteries of existence. After seeing that there was other work being made similar to what I had in my minds eye my challenge was to find my own style to convey similar concepts and feelings. (Warning to young artists: Don’t fall down the Terry Winters Rabbit hole its as hard to climb out of as the Basquiat one!) I experimented with ideas off and on over the years constantly changing and mutating my style looking for a style that was completely new that maybe no one had explored before. It wasn’t until I moved to Phoenix 8 years ago and got a studio that I was able to dive deep into making and exploring my own version of biological abstraction. At first I really had trouble explaining to people what my work was about because it was so subjective and personal. It could have been that while working in museums on exhibitions and learning that it is somewhat easy to convey complex scientific ideas by creating narratives / stories, that I felt it was important to do the same to help me engage with viewers of my work. Now that I have a body of work from the past 8 years that shows how I got to this point I feel comfortable enough to let the current work speak for itself. If the viewer really wants to learn about the things I think about while making a painting they can talk to me in person about it and also look back at my previous work and exhibitions and see the progression. The work I’m doing now has gotten to be more about the feelings and thoughts I’m having while making it and less about imagery, but the underlying motive for making it is still inspired by the inner-workings and hidden behind the scenes worlds.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Grand Avenue in Phoenix is my favorite area in Phoenix. My art studio is on Grand. Lately with Covid things are in flux so some of the places I would have taken folks are already gone, Between the fairgrounds and Van Buren you can find some hidden gems and family owned businesses and restaurants. Two of my favorite spots that I missed while living in LA are EL Norteño and Asadero Toro. Pre Covid Tuesday nights We’d go to Gracies early and end up at Bikini lounge with DJentrification hosting 602sdays by around 11pm. Late night bike-rides stopping at Carlys or Grand Avenue Pizza is a great way to experience downtown especially if you can get a tour from Quincy. I’d balance out the urban with some local hiking at South Mountain or The Superstitions. My favorite thing to do with friends from out of town is to road trip up to Flagstaff or Tucson so they can see how diverse the outdoors are here.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Since I have two careers I’d like to give two shoutouts. First my life as a museum professional would not be anywhere near what it is now without the opportunities offered to me by Beth Redmond-Jones. She was my boss at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach around ’05 and since then we have worked on many different projects around the country both freelance and in-house. Currently Beth is the Vice President of Exhibitions at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey California and she brought me onto the team as a contractor working remotely from Phoenix on an exhibition about the Deep Sea. This project is a dream fulfilled for me. When I was 16 years old I drove to Monterey from phoenix and slept in my car so I could visit the aquarium. That moment in my life and the wonder I felt wandering around the aquarium fuels my passion to create those kind of experiences for future generations. Shout out number two goes to the staff at Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture and the judges that selected me for my first major public art project at the Sky Harbor Rental Car Return Station in Phoenix, AZ scheduled to open late 2021.